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Lymphatic Drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage is a gentle form of massage that accelerates the circulation of the lymph—fluids that support your immune system—throughout the body.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: May 18, 2020

To understand manual lymphatic drainage, it's first important to have a strong grasp on what the lymph system is. Your lymph system is comprised of fluids that deliver nutrients throughout the body while encouraging efficient waste removal. This system is central to your overall health.

A gentle style of massage, manual lymphatic drainage relies on rhythmic circular movements to enable the proper circulation of these fluids throughout the body.

The origins of Lymphatic Drainage: Manual lymphatic drainage was developed in the '30s by Dr. Emil Vodder and his wife, Estrid Vodder. The highly specialized technique was initially presented as Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) in Paris, 1936. Manual lymphatic drainage was not accepted until the early 1950's. It finally made headway in the United States in 1972 after being presented at a conference in New York.

Benefits Of Lymphatic Drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage involves the detoxification of the entire body. The massage can provide relief from chronic pain, restored hydration and a reduction in fluid retention in various parts of the body. It is a good therapy for individuals with anxiety, insomnia and allergies, and studies have shown that it has positive effects on the nervous system. Not only does manual lymphatic drainage lower blood pressure and reduce overall stress, but many physicians recommend the therapeutic massage after surgery.

What To Expect

During an appointment, a massage therapist will use their hands to deliver pressure in slow, rhythmic motions to areas of the body where the lymph vessels may be congested. Because these vessels are just beneath the skin, very little force is required. You may be asked to breathe deeply during certain parts of the massage.

Areas that tend to require manual lymphatic drainage are the neck, underarm and groin. The therapist begins near these areas and uses specialized strokes known as "feather touch," where no more than eight ounces of pressure is applied to every inch of the body as the fluids are massaged back into place.

Manual lymphatic drainage is typically performed on a massage table. Depending on your therapist, mood-enhancing candles or various forms of aromatherapy may be present to create a soothing atmosphere.

Increased urination is likely following a session, as toxins and excess fluids that have been manipulated are processed and flushed from the body via the kidneys. Drink plenty of water after your appointment to accelerate this process.

Specialized equipment: Clients typically undress to the waist and lie on a padded massage table. Clients may be draped with a sheet or cloth during manual lymphatic drainage. The therapist will remove the drape from the areas worked on during the massage.

Recommended sessions: Though a single session can provide noticeable improvement in stress levels, clients with chronic conditions or longstanding injuries may benefits from repeated sessions.

Preparation: Avoid using lotions or products on your skin on the day of your massage. The success of manual lymphatic drainage depends on a therapist's ability to manipulate the skin, and friction is required to do so.


If you're fighting a cold, fever or some other kind of virus, it may be wise to postpone your appointment. Manual lymphatic drainage can interfere with the immune system and may inhibit your speedy recovery.

Who wouldn't benefit: Most people can benefit from manual lymphatic drainage. However, individuals with active cancer should not undergo manual lymphatic drainage. It is always a good idea to check with your physician ahead of time.

Find licensed and certified experts who offer Lymphatic Drainage near you